31 FW supports Astral Knight 21, partners with NATO allies Published May 13, 2021 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- U.S. Airmen, F-16 Fighting Falcons, and HH-60 Pave Hawks assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing are participating in exercise Astral Knight 21 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, from May 13-21, 2021. Astral Knight 21 is a joint multinational exercise involving U.S. Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors from U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, U.S. Army Europe-Africa, U.S Special Operations Command, Europe, and U.S. Naval Forces Europe, working with members from the Albanian, Croatian, Hellenic, Italian, and Slovenian armed forces. Approximately 1200 Airmen from across the U.S. Air Force will be participating in the exercise including Airmen from the 31st Maintenance Group, 606th Air Control Squadron, 555th Fighter Squadron, 56th Rescue Squadron, and other 31st FW supporting units. Training will focus on conducting Integrated Air and Missile Defense of various terrains and involve a combination of flight operations and computer-assisted scenarios. Additionally, the exercise will demonstrate the readiness and force protection capabilities for NATO enhanced forward presence forces. Participating aircraft include U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles; F-16s; HH-60 Pave Hawks and C-130J Super Hercules aircraft; Italian Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft; Hellenic Air Force F-16s and Emb-145 Erieye aircraft; and Croatian MiG-21 BisD/UMD aircraft. “We are excited to begin such a robust exercise with so many of our coalition partners for the largest USAFE-led exercise in Europe,” said Maj. Gen. Greg Semmel, Air National Guard mobilization assistant to the Commander, USAFE-AFAFRICA and AK21 exercise director. “By integrating U.S. and ally assets we are able to build greater awareness and strengthen our deterrence efforts, making our capabilities stronger and more resilient, improving readiness and responsiveness, and refining effectiveness and interoperability.” Astral Knight 21 aims to enhance the command and control integration, coordination and interoperability of air, land and sea capabilities, and overlapping operations into the IAMD enterprise. IAMD incorporates offensive and defensive measures to create a comprehensive joint and combined force capable of preventing an enemy from effectively employing its offensive air and missile weapons. Training with our allies and regional partners allows for synchronized and prepared responses to regional security threats and world-wide contingency operations. This exercise builds upon the nations’ joint capabilities, ensuring a much stronger partnership and enhanced interoperability. “This exercise allows us to demonstrate the 31st FW’s readiness and force protection capabilities while training with other nations to enhance our interoperability and relationships,” said Lt. Col. Evan Gardner, 31st Operations Group deputy commander. “It allows us and our allies and partners to prepare for potential operations in support of NATO and other multinational contingencies around the world.” Astral Knight 21 will continue to improve U.S. and participating nation interoperability allowing participants to demonstrate their own unique roles in contributing to stability. Working together builds enduring strategic relationships contributing to global security and enhanced preparedness.